On the evening of June 3, 1989, I
was working the overnight shift at WQBK-1300 AM. At the time, the station was
located on an isolated hill outside Albany, New York. The networks were buzzing
with news of the violent crackdown on the pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen
Square. The teletype clacked away every few minutes with the latest reports. In
the days before the World Wide Web, there was little to do but wait for the
next report to come through.
Looking for more news beyond our
network feed, I began to surf the frequencies on the satellite dish.
Eventually, I picked up an audio feed of an English-speaking announcer for
Radio Beijing who reported the news of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. I’m
not sure if this was a part of a network news feed or just a stray signal I
caught, but I felt an immediate connection to my fellow broadcaster. It was
also obvious to anyone who followed the news that the Communist Chinese government’s
response would fall harshly on those who broke the wall of silence. I wondered
if I would have the same courage had I been in his place.
The audio I recorded from the broadcast is available below. To
view some rare photographs from the massacre, click here for an age-restricted version on YouTube I produced in conjunction with
my research on this event.
Knowing the historical
significance of the broadcast, I transferred it from reel-to-reel tape to a cart (see Fig. 1).
Carts look like 8-track cartridges and come in varying lengths. They were used for playing everything from station IDs and bumpers, to
commercials, public service announcements, interviews, and music. Looking back
at the state of radio news gathering in 1989, with no computers or Internet, and only
antiquated relics like teletype, carts, and reel-to-reel, I still
marvel at how we got any work done.
Fig. 1: The cart I recorded the Radio Beijing announcement onto on June 4, 1989.
I produced my first report on this broadcast in
2000 while taking a course in Producing Historical Documentaries for Radiowith Professor Gerald Zahavi at the
University at Albany while working on my master’s degree. The web page for the
course, at the time of this writing, is still available at the above link. There, you can find my original short audio documentary, “The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing,” which I converted and uploaded to YouTube, below:
Professor Zahavi also broadcast my
report on his Talking History
program on WRPI-90.9 FM, the radio station for the Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute, in 2000 and 2001.
Transcription of Original Radio Beijing Broadcast - June 3, 1989:
This is Radio Beijing. Please
remember June the third, 1989. The most tragic event happened in the Chinese
Thousands of people, most of them
innocent civilians, were killed by fully armed soldiers when they forced their
way into the city. Among the killed are our colleagues at Radio Beijing.
The soldiers were riding on
armored vehicles and used machine guns against thousands of local residents and
students who tried to block their way. When the army convoys made a
breakthrough, soldiers continued to spray their bullets indiscriminately at
crowds in the street.
Eyewitnesses say some armored
vehicles even crushed foot soldiers who hesitated in front of the resisting
Radio Beijing English Department
deeply mourns those died in the tragic incident and appeals to all its
listeners to join our protest for the gross violation of human rights and the
most barbarous suppression of the people.
Because of this abnormal
situation here in Beijing, there is no other news we could bring you. We
sincerely ask for your understanding and thank you for joining us at this most
While working on the report for
the class, I contacted Radio Free Asia in Washington D.C. in the hope that
someone there might have some information about the announcer. Through an
interpreter, I was able to speak with a former Radio Beijing reporter who was
actually at Tiananmen Square the evening of June 3, 1989. She didn’t know who
the announcer was, but said she would look into it and let me know if she found
Fig. 2: FCC Restricted Radio Telephone Operator Permit: Issued January 31, 1986.
About six months later, well
after the course had ended, I received an e-mail from my contact at Radio Free
Asia who informed me of that the announcer’s name is Yuan Neng (a mistranslation of Chen Yuanneng) and he was
transferred from his job for broadcasting the report. The script was by Wu
Xiaoyong, Deputy Director of the English Language Service at Radio Beijing. His
father, Wu Xueqian, at the time was a Senior Council Vice-President. According to my contact, after the
broadcast, Wu was put under house arrest for two to three years and later moved to Hong Kong. His
father’s connections likely played a part in his release.
China is seeking a balance
between its capitalist ambitions and cultural traditions; however, one wonders
if the threat the Chinese Communist government perceived in 1989 was not so much a fear
of revolution per se, but rather that the moral imperative through which all
governments derive their power, the consent of the people, would vanish in the
face of true competition in the marketplace of ideas.
UPDATE June 4, 2015:Through various
sources, including a reader of Aeolus 13 Umbra and a Canadian film
documentarian, it has been reported that Yuan Neng is alive and living in the
United States, but does not wish to discuss the events of June 3-4, 1989, at
UPDATE February 2019:The Lost Voice
of Radio Beijing announcer’s full name is reported as Chen Yuanneng (see
comments, below). My previous reporting of Yuan
Neng (see above) is attributed to mistranslations in my communications with Radio Free Asia personnel in late 2000.
UPDATE May 2019: Photos of Chen
Yuanneng and Wu Xiaoyong posted by 881903.com, the official website of
Commercial Radio Hong Kong (thank you Aeolus 13 Umbra reader Lu butsch for the tip).
Chen Yuanneng is reported by 881903.com to have been working in the "high-tech industry" in Los Angeles" at the time of the publication of the article, May 13, 2014. The images below are from the report.
Yuanneng Wu Xiaoyong
UPDATE Jan. 2023: By December 2022, and probably much earlier, the 881903.com article about Chen Yuanneng and Wu Xiaoyong was deleted (the original article link is http://www.881903.com/Page/ZH-TW/News_Featuredetail.aspx?itemid=717916&csid=901_3580). A search of 889103.com's website turns up no references to either Chen Yuanneng or Wu Xiaoyong. Likewise, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine reveals no captures made of that article. The images above with the 889103 logo were saved by myself off the article when it was still active.
For the purposes of documentation, I am including the full transcription of the article below. The translation from Cantonese to English, provided by an online translation program, is a little rough and unclear in some places, but provides a good idea of the article's original content:
Interview: Pan Zhiqian for 881903.com.
For many years
online spread an excerpt, the content has the reporter of Chinese Official
Broadcasting station, breaks through the information blockade in 64 the same
day, in the central media condemned that the government suppressed the student.
This reporter to tell truth, has paid the heavy price, his for 25 years accept
the visit for the first time, the matter that the review had that morning.
After 1989 had
the June 4 incident, for in the inland official media, strove for
one-and-a-half points of freedom of the press, Wu Xiaoyong used four years of
personal freedom to exchange. In the early morning, he has written a news
release, Beijing standard time 7:00 am, gave the radio announcer to report.
Content that at
that time broadcast: "Here is Beijing International Broadcasting
Corporation. Please remember on June 3, 1989, had the most shocking tragedy in
the capital Beijing of China. Thousands of people, mostly is the innocent
resident, was entered the fully-armed soldiers in city to kill forcefully . . .
The soldiers are driving the tank, tries to stop the resident and student who with
the machine gun strafe. Even if after the tank opens the channel, soldier still
at a promiscuous manner the person on opening fire street . . . The Beijing
international radio station English department deeply mourns slain the person
in this tragedy, and appealed to all our audience: With us condemned that this
type tramples the human rights shameless and suppresses the people's act
This news by
Chinese official International Broadcasting Corporation, from Beijing to
international broadcast. Wu Xiaoyong was broadcasting station English
department deputy director, on the morning of June 4 rode the bicycle to go to
work at that time, witnessed on the way the serviceman and tank suppressed the
resident. He returns to the broadcasting station, learned that has the
colleague, because the internal organs were punctured dead by the bullet, had
the colleague relative dead.
At this time he
decided that must tell a truth. "Human died, did we tell a truth not to be
good? This truth we said today that broadcast." 16 lines of news releases,
were Wu Xiaoyong wrote with two minutes in the grief and indignation fast. Wu
Xiaoyong said that he did not approve then student movement, moreover held the
post of the state workers more than ten years, understood the consequence of
publishing absolutely, but he cannot accept the People's Liberation Army to
attack the people.
"The Chinese People's Liberation Army is
the army of people, the army of your people hits the people, is this does do?
Army not such dry, has killed the human, the tank such presses." Soon Wu
Xiaoyong then carried off, in not hands over to catch and not have the
prosecution, not to have under the sentence, around was detained Canada puts
under house arrest for four years.
We asked that he does have the regret, he
said: "Now thinks, if makes me make one again this matter, perhaps I this.
But said from another angle, I thought that I have not made the mistake any
matter, I handled the matter that a reporter should handle. "
Wu Xiaoyong who
in the recent 20 years moved to the U.S. sighs with regret and spoke the price
of lie to be big in the foreign country, reviewed is speaks the truth price to
be big in China. The same day radio announcer Chen Yuan can, be punished
afterward, was transferred a news post, afterward went through many places to
Los Angeles is engaged in the high-tech industry.
On the same day
the sound recording of news has spread online, Chen Yuan can be called "on
electric wave keeps off the person of tank." Wu Xiaoyong and Chen Yuan and former colleague Rose still held an office in the International Broadcasting
Corporation, she said the media person, regardless of works for whom, should
maintain the conscience. Until now, whenever with the new colleague, as well as
wants to enter line of young people to chat, Rose still proud to they spoke Wu
Xiaoyong and Chen Yuan can the story.
This information is incorrect. I worked at China Radio International for 5 years an personally know the Deputy Director of the English Service who retired in 2005 as well as the daughter of what at one time was known as Radio Peking's first English announcer. When I left CRI I took with the original tapes from that period. Also Radio Beijing at the time did not use satellite as a distribution platform. Satellite came years later. What you have is an off air recorded made off shortwave. Cui Hong who has been at CRI for over 30 years told me who it was and it's not him. I also know Lin Shao Wen who for years worked in the English Service and is now in the central Chinese newsroom . I remember in 2002 going thought the tape archives of CRI on the 1st floor of their building in West Beijing all the original tapes dated June 2 to June 6th are missing. But A friend in the frequency department has old cassette copies, which I know have. These will be released down the road.ReplyDelete
I believe it is you sir who is incorrect, mainly because I'm not clear on exactly what you are asserting, particularly as you were not at the radio station that evening in 1989. I recorded the broadcast, and it was off a satellite feed. How it got on satellite, I cannot say, and state as much in my post, if you read it.Delete
I suggest you move beyond your assumptions of the state of Chinese broadcast technology in 1989 and instead take a step back and realize that this momentous event was being monitored by every major news service in the world. It does not take much to realize that it was likely recorded by a major news organization off shortwave and re-packaged as part of a news feed.
If you read my post, I state quite clearly I did not know how this broadcast ended up on satellite. I make absolutely no claims regarding Chinese broadcast technology in 1989.
Who you know in China is basically irrelevant. I was there at the radio station. I recorded it. I investigated it with reporters at Radio Free Asia.
If your colleagues in China have a different opinion on the matter, they are free to post their evidence right here.
I look forward to their feedback.
6 years later - still no word from Keith Perron at PCJ Media. So much for your "tapes" Keith.Delete
Well, nearly a year has passed and still no word from PCJ Media or his friends in mainland China state-sanctioned radio stations...go figure...ReplyDelete
Nice article. There are good information about China Radio International. It is useful for china people. I like this kind of Blog. Thanks for admin. He is great. If anyone like to get informatics blog about China Radio International please click here.ReplyDelete
Thank you for this post. Am I to understand that to this day no one knows what became of Yuan Neng? Seems like it is something worth investigating further! Someone should take the time to tell his story.ReplyDelete
Thank you for asking! To my complete surprise, I only learned within the past month that Yuan Neng is indeed still alive! I did not have the pleasure of speaking with him myself, but a documentary filmmaker who became interested in my story contacted me and used her resources to track him down - and he is living in the United States.ReplyDelete
According to my contact, Mr. Neng does not feel the time is yet right for him to discuss his story. He may still have family in China, and very likely saw some horrible things that evening, so we have to respect his wishes.
I do not feel I am liberty to identify Mr. Neng's location, nor the documentary filmmaker who approached me about his story. If it all goes well, in a couple years we may finally see a documentary about "The Lost Voice of Radio Beijing," and I truly hope so. It is a story long overdue to be told to an wider audience. Hopefully, Mr. Neng will wish to share his story with the filmmaker, and I truly hope he does so. Every year that passes, the Tiananmen Square Massacre gets less and less coverage and the valiant sacrifice of so many, including Mr. Neng who had to flee his homeland, becomes forgotten - but never here!
Yes i am totally agreed with this article and i just want say that this article is very nice and very informative article.I will make sure to be reading your blog more. You made a good point but I can't help but wonder, what about the other side? !!!!!!Thanks produzioni audioReplyDelete
Du Ping(杜平) (now in Phonixtv凤凰卫视) worked as the Radio Beijing's correspondant at that time. He wrote a book in 2017 which introduces more about what happened to Radio Beijing that night. Wu Xiaoyong（吴晓镛), the head of English service of Radio Beijing in 1989, witnessed many people's injury and death on his way to Radio Station. The news was written by him and should have been read by him as well. But his colleagues at radio station thought the price that Wu had to pay would be unbearable. So, Chen Yuanneng(陈原能)read the news. Before June 4th incident, Chen Yuanneng was regarded as a backbone of the station. Radio Beijing had planned to send him to America for further trainning. After June 4th, he was once banned from travelling abroad and lost his job.Wu Xiaoyong now worked as the head of Phonenixtv American Channel(凤凰卫视美洲台).And what happened to Chen Yuanneng later remains a secret even in Chinese World.I think many kind-hearted people choose to hide the truth so as to protect himReplyDelete
Thank you so much for your update! So, Chen Yuanneg is his full name . . .30 years later I am still learning something new. I am very grateful for your information. A Canadian documentarian you contacted me about this story tracked Chen down, but he understandably refused an interview. Wu and Chen were very brave that day and they are overdue for recognition for their courage.Delete
Dear Mr. UrsoReplyDelete
You can find a photo of Chen Yuanneng(陈原能)in the following webpage, he was living in the United States in 2014. Perhaps he is living in the United States now.
WOW! I can't tell you how much it means to me to be able to see their pictures AFTER 30 years! You made my day. I was able to have the article translated and it confirmed what I was told previously by another Aeolus 13 umbra reader, that Chen Yuanneng is indeed living in the US. Great info and thanks for the link!Delete
Here's the book written by Du Ping... His description of what happened that night starts from Page 75...Under the subtitle: 那一夜我全然无眠 (That night I couldn't sleep at all)
Thank you for the reference! I can't read Chinese, but maybe I can find someone to translate that passage for me.Delete
Please continue this great work and I look forward to more of your awesome blog posts. Chinese cultureReplyDelete
Great blog, great work! The June 4th massacre will never be forgotten and the truth will be known by the world in the future ---- because of so many people like you who never give up.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Mr. Urso!
A former journalist from china
June 4th, 2019
Thank you Zhanwang. Coming from a former journalist from China, your comments mean a lot to me.Delete